Today you don't need to settle for the audio engineer next door. The online world gives you a wide variety of possibilities when it comes to contacting some really cool engineers that are the perfect fit for your sound.
But as with any technology, there are logistical problems. You record on that DAW, he or she uses this DAW. They don't have your outdated plugin that you used for that awesome guitar solo, and you're not sure if all your super-tight vocal phrases will line up correctly once you've sent your tracks halfway across the world.
Well, you're in luck, because I know a thing or two about online mixing, and all the problems that you'll run into when you start sending your tracks through the cloud.
Problem 1 - Aligning Your Tracks
When it comes to cross-DAW transfers, you worry about whether or not your tracks will all line up inside your mixing engineer's software. If a few tracks sound out of sync, it can be frustrating to fix.
The easiest way to make sure your tracks all align is to consolidate them, and make them all start at the beginning of the session. It doesn't matter whether your guitar solo starts at 3:45. By making all the tracks start at the same time you won't run into sync issues. And since you're just adding silence in front of the tracks, you're not adding any extra noise or anything to the session.
Every DAW is different, but a quick search on YouTube will usually result in an easy tutorial that shows you how. Here are a few examples:
Problem 2 - Plugin Headaches
You know how it goes. You create a sick sound with five different plugins all working together in unison to make that vocal pop out of the speakers!
But you can't figure out how to make the rest of the song sound good, so you take it to a mixer. And of course he doesn't have that secret sauce plugin combo, so you have to scramble to get something similar using the gear he or she has.
Not so fast. You don't have to do that.
When you're exporting your tracks for online mixing you should take care of two things first:
- Deactivate Your Mixing Plugins - If you want to give your mixing engineer an easier way to mix your recorded tracks, deactivate all the processing you've done on your rough mix. This gives your engineer the natural recorded sound that allows him complete freedom to EQ, compress and add effects as he sees fit.
- Bounce Your Production Plugins - If you do have tracks where the effects are absolutely necessary, then leave them on, or record them to a separate track so you can give your engineer the option of going with the sound you had in mind. Sometimes, giving the engineer the freedom to create a cool mix will take your songs to places you never would've thought possible.
Problem 3 - MIDI
MIDI and software instruments don't play so well when you're transferring sessions to other computers. It's a similar problem to the plugin headaches, just much worse. Because you inevitable create your MIDI tracks with parameters specific to your software synth, it almost certainly won't transfer over.
If your engineer has the same synths you can copy the parameters over but just to be on the safe side it's much easier to make all your MIDI tracks into audio files.
Simply route your MIDI track via send to a bus. Then make the input of an empty audio track the same bus so that when you arm the track and hit record you convert your MIDI software synth into audio in real time.
This can get time consuming, but not as time consuming as spending hours trying to get that synth sound back.
Problem 4 - Stereo
This is a "problem" we ran into recently at one of the Crowd Audio competitions. When you're exporting tracks, make sure you don't export tracks in stereo when they're actually mono.
Having your computer process stereo when they're mono is just an "unnecessary waste of bandwidth and CPU resources" as one contestant said. When you're working remotely with someone it's always better to make sure everything you do makes it easier for the mixing engineer to actually get down and mix. Having them start the session by converting all your stereo-mono tracks is something you could've done for him. It saves time and money and results in less frustrated mixing engineers.
Problem 5 - Sending Large Files
Recording sessions are large. They can often be more than a couple of gigabytes in size, which results in certain bottlenecks when it comes to sending it over the internet.
Luckily, there are quite a few solutions for this. My favorites are Dropbox, WeTransfer, and email using Google Drive.
- Dropbox - Dropbox is nice because it creates a folder in the cloud for you to access. If you have a paid account with lots of space, then this is a good way to share multiple songs or whole albums.
- WeTransfer - WeTransfer has a simple interface that allows easy sending of your sessions. It's a good option when you just want to send a single zip file of a song that's under 2 GB.
- Google Drive Email - Remember when you couldn't send files over 25 MB through email? Well that's all gone now if you have Gmail (and if you don't have Gmail, please get Gmail....). Click the little buttons on the bottom of the email and you can attach a large file through Drive and simply share the link with the email recipient. Super-simple and easy. Works with sessions, and if you just want to send high-resolution WAV at the end of the mixing session.
All right, I hope I've mixed in most of the problems you encounter when you do online mixing. If you're a musician you now know better ways to approach your recording session when you need to give them to somebody else, and if you're an engineer you can educate your bands on these best practices.